Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District
Early 19th Century
Despite the explosive growth in Manayunk in the first half of the nineteenth century, Roxborough remained during these decades a linear village along Ridge Road with an economy based largely on agriculture and milling. However, many Roxborough farms were diversifying, supplementing their incomes with stone quarrying, lumbering, and other commercial activities. Real estate advertisements offer a window into activities in Roxborough. In 1836, a 40-acre property near the six-mile stone on Ridge Road was offered for sale. It included a three-story stone house, a stone barn with stabling for four horses and 12 cows, a grain house, cart house, poultry house, hog house, corn house, two apple orchards, and a “kitchen garden, well set with Strawberries, Raspberries, &c. [from which] 170 quarts have been picked in one day.” The property included several acres of timber and “quarries of excellent turnpike stone.”66 In 1839, “a valuable small farm,” a 57.5-acre property on “the Philadelphia and Norristown turnpike road” at the western edge of Roxborough Township, was offered for sale. It included a stone dwelling, “a good large barn with stabling sufficient for eight cows and four horses,” an apple orchard, three springs, and land “in a good state of cultivation and all under good fence.” The property also included “3 acres of good young thriving timber” and “a good Stone Shop, formerly occupied as a Weaver Shop.”67 Also in 1839, a 33-acre farm, “situate on the Ridge Turnpike Road, in Roxborough township, nearly opposite the Sorrel Horse Tavern,” was offered at public sale. The advertisement declared that the “land is in a good state of cultivation and has a body of valuable timber.”68 Hinting at changes, an 1844 advertisement offered a 22-acre farm in Roxborough Township “on a public road leading from Ridge pike to Flat Rock Bridge and Manayunk,” that, in addition to the usual stone house, barn, and spring house, included “a stream of water running through the Farm, sufficient for steam machinery.”69
At about the same time that the farm was advertised with a water source sufficient for steam machinery, omnibus lines connecting Roxborough and the City of Philadelphia with reliable, relatively inexpensive, daily transportation were initiated.70 A line was established in 1840 with omnibus service every day but Sunday leaving Amy’s Hotel in Roxborough at 8:30 a.m. and returning to Roxborough from the Black Bear Inn on S. 5th Street near Market Street at 3:30 p.m. The fare was 20 cents (Figure 26).71 A line was established in 1842 with omnibus service leaving the Sorrel Horse Inn in Roxborough for the City of Philadelphia via Wissahickon, Falls of Schuylkill, and Laurel Hill at 6:30 a.m. and returning to Roxborough from the Merchants’ Exchange at 3rd and Walnut Streets at 1:45 p.m. The fare to Roxborough was 25 cents.72 While the first of the two omnibus lines was named the Farmers’ Line, its primary customers would not have been farmers, who carted their fruits, vegetables, and meats to market in wagons. Instead, the riders would have been a new breed of Roxborough residents who had frequent and sometimes daily business in the city. While the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad had facilitated commuting from Manayunk and the lowest reaches of Ridge Road to the City of Philadelphia as early as the mid 1830s, the omnibus lines of the early 1840s opened up all of Roxborough to commuting.73
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The introduction of the omnibus lines on Ridge Road in the early 1840s indicated that Roxborough, which had been a farming and milling community for nearly 150 years, was transitioning. As early as 1839, the beginnings of suburbanization were evident in Roxborough. That year, Charles Jones and T. Mason Mitchell advertised development lots for sale on Green Lane, just off Ridge Road, that were measured in square feet, not acres. The 50-foot wide lots, which were between 150 and 250 feet deep, were promoted as having attractive views, a healthful environment, convenient to the railroad and turnpike, and in the proximity of several churches and the Village of Manayunk. The advertisement promised: “The Lots will, when built upon, be sufficiently large for handsome gardens attached to each. This, on viewing the neighborhood, will prove a desirable and safe investment to many persons, either for summer or permanent residences.”74 The advertisement made no mention of barns, meadows, fruit trees, spring houses, or other farm accoutrements. The development lots on Green Lane were intended for commuters, who walked to Manayunk or took the train or omnibus to the city. They may have been the first suburban housing lots laid out in Roxborough Township.
Although the omnibus lines and suburban house lots portended changes coming to Roxborough, Charles Ellet’s Map of the County of Philadelphia from Actual Survey of 1843 indicates that Roxborough remained a linear village running along Ridge Road (Figure 27). The map clearly shows that, outside of densely developed Manayunk, Roxborough Township was sparsely populated with few roads running east and west off the main spine. The Ellet map of 1843 identifies the main commercial and institutional sites in Roxborough. It depicts four inns, all on Ridge Road: the Leverington Hotel near Green Lane, Roxborough Hotel at Gorgas Lane, Buttonwood Tavern at Livezey’s Mill Lane, and Sorrel Horse Tavern above Ship Lane. The 1843 map depicts three manufacturing facilities associated with the textile industry: the Gorgas Cotton Factory on Gorgas Lane at the Wissahickon Creek; Haley's Dye Works on Gorgas Lane; and Rees' Print Works on Eliza's Lane. The map calls out five mills along or near the Wissahickon: Wise’s Mill and Livezey’s Mill on the upper Wissahickon; a spice mill and the Rittenhouse Paper Mill at the confluence of the Wissahickon with Paper Mill Run; and Robinson's (misspelling of Robeson’s) Mill on the Wissahickon at the crossing of the Ridge Road. The map notes the Roxborough Poorhouse in the Old Plow Tavern on Ridge Road below Shur's Lane. It calls out the Baptist Church as well as the German Reformed Church at Ship Lane. The German or Dutch Reformed Church was founded in 1835 and transitioned to the Roxborough Presbyterian Church in 1854. The map identified a schoolhouse at the intersection of Wise’s Mill Road and Livezey’s Mill Lane. The school, known as the Heiss or Yellow School House, was established in 1812. The map called out the hall of the Roxborough Masonic Lodge, No. 135, located on Ridge Road at Shur's Lane. The fraternal organization had been founded in 1813.75 An 1851 inventory of tax-exempt property in Philadelphia County listed all such properties in Roxborough, again portraying the rural area as sparsely populated. The 1851 inventory included the Roxborough Baptist Church and Burial Ground, Dutch Reformed Burial Ground, Lutheran Church, a volunteer fire brigade called the Good Intent Engine Company, the poorhouse or almshouse, three schoolhouses, and two tollhouses associated with the Ridge Road Turnpike.76
Like Ellet’s map of 1843, John Levering’s Plan of the Township of Roxborough of 1848 depicts Roxborough as a linear village along Ridge Avenue, but also shows the very beginnings of suburban development along Green Lane as well as High Street (Lyceum Avenue).77 Houses on relatively small lots on a grid of streets first appear in Roxborough on the 1848 map. Suburban development was occurring along Ridge Avenue as well, especially in the lower section near the Wissahickon railroad station and other transportation options. For example, in 1850, a real estate advertisement offering a property at the corner of Ridge and Hermit Lane (now 559 Righter Street) extolled its easy access to transportation. “The situation is high and healthy, with a daily communication to and from the city, by Stages passing the door, or by Omnibuses connecting the Railroad at Wissahickon Railroad Bridge, and half a mile therefrom, and within half a mile of the Manayunk Steamboat Landing, affording an hourly conveyance to of from the city—thereby making it a desirable private Country Residence, or for a man of business, whose location is in the city.”78 While men of business may have commuted to Manayunk for managerial positions in the mills as early as the early 1840s, by 1850, men of business were living in Roxborough and commuting to the business center in the heart of Philadelphia.
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As Roxborough began its transition in the 1840s from a farming and milling community to a suburb for the industrial area flourishing at nearby Manayunk, several institutions were established to support the growing population. In 1841, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Roxborough Lodge, No. 66, was established. The fraternal organization erected a hall at the northwest corner of Ridge and Lyceum. The Roxborough Lyceum, an educational organization that housed a consortium of libraries, was chartered in 1854 and erected a building on Ridge across from the Odd Fellows Hall in 1856. The Lyceum became the Roxborough Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia in 1896. The German Lutheran Church was established in 1845 at Pechin and Martin Streets, on the boundary of Manayunk and Roxborough. The current church at the site dates to 1902. The Ridge Avenue Methodist Church was established in 1847. The first Methodist services were held in Yellow School House, before a church building was erected at Ridge and Shawmont. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church was established in 1859 and a large church complex on Ridge near Shur's Lane was begun in 1862, when the sanctuary cornerstone was laid. The Church was consecrated 1863 and a tower added in 1871. The church was enlarged and a parish building constructed in 1874. The church was enlarged again in 1885 (Figure 32). Farther to the north, St. Alban's Episcopal Church was established in 1859 and a church building was erected on Fairthorne, just off Ridge, in 1861.
In 1854, the City and County of Philadelphia were consolidated, ending more than a century and a half of independent government in Roxborough Township and incorporating the emerging suburb into the City of Philadelphia. With the consolidation, the newly annexed portions of Philadelphia were divided into wards. Roxborough comprised part of the 21st Ward, which included Roxborough, Manayunk, and Penn Township (East Falls and Allegheny West). In 1860, the 21st Ward had a population of 17,159. Samuel Smedley’s Atlas of the City of Philadelphia of 1862 shows that during the decade leading up to the Civil War, Leverington had emerged as a neighborhood in its own right within Roxborough, with twelve blocks of suburban development bounded by Ridge, Krams, Manayunk, and Martin on the west side of Ridge and more subdivision and construction along Leverington on the east Ridge (Figure 28).79
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This information has been posted by RMWHS with the permission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
66 Public Ledger, 3 December 1836, p. 3.
67 Public Ledger, 19 January 1839, p. 4.
68 Public Ledger, 30 October 1839, p. 4.
69 Public Ledger, 24 December 1844, p. 4.
70 Stagecoaches had traveled Ridge Road since the eighteenth century. For example, in 1834, a stagecoach line ran regular service between the City of Philadelphia and Norristown, leaving the City at 3:00 p.m. daily and arriving in Norristown “early the same evening,” and leaving Norristown for the City at 7:00 a.m. An announcement of the line noted that “Passengers will be taken up and set down in any part of Philadelphia or Norristown.” Philadelphia As It Is (Philadelphia: P.J. Gray, 1834), p. 125.
71 Public Ledger, 14 November 1840, p. 3.
72 Public Ledger, 7 July 1842, p. 3.
73 Competing with the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad for commuters to Manayunk, J.W. Funck offered a combination rail and boat service to Manayunk as early as 1848. He operated railroad passenger cars from 3rd and Willow Streets to Fairmount, where passengers connected with a steamboat to Laurel Hill and Manayunk. The service ran at 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. and then every 30 minutes from 1:30 p.m. through the afternoon. See Public Ledger, 21 June 1848, p. 4.
74 Public Ledger, 24 April 1839, p. 1.
75 Horace H. Platten and William Lawton, The History of the Roxborough Masonic Lodge, No. 135 (Philadelphia: The Centennial Committee of the Roxborough Masonic Lodge, No. 135, 1913).
76 Elihud Tarr, Memorial of the Commissioners of the County of Philadelphia to the Legislature upon the Subject of the Laws Exempting Certain Property from Taxation, Together with a Schedule of Exempt Property (Philadelphia: The County Commissioners, 1851).
77 John Levering, Plan of the Township of Roxborough with the property holders' names &c. Manayunk, published by M. Dripps, 1848.
78 Public Ledger, 26 July 1850, p. 4.
79 Samuel L. Smedley, Atlas of the City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1862).